A YouTube video that was shared with us on Twitter pointed out the need for outreach organizations to remember that we work with our poor, not for them. It is just a simple term, a small word, but when you change that preposition from ‘for’ to ‘with’ all of a sudden the entire company or organization can change.

As with every change, it begins within ourselves. We choose to move our thoughts, actions and words a little, and then the ripple effect emanates from us. When we do that as a group, the tides of change can be overwhelming, and beautiful.

We believe in working with, and working for the economically disenfranchised, the homeless, and the forgotten. The Center has over four decades of listening to our community. Without their voices in our daily activities, we wouldn’t be able to mold programs that actually help their lives. The shift toward programs that partner with many of our community outreaches, and networks is something that the Center has been focusing on this past year and a half.

Programs offered at the Center continue to change and grow. With the understanding that true growth and sustainability comes from direct involvement, the Center continues to look for innovative ways to include our clients. Their voice is what moves the organizational changes needed to meet the needs of our low-income community.

The commitment to involve our clients in the operations of the Franciscan Center can be seen on every level.  Our Board of Directors consists of six Sisters of Saint Francis of Assisi, along with the son of a former client.  In addition, of our nineteen member staff, seven were former clients.  Our Director of Food Services, Kim, a former client, is currently in her last year of study to obtain a degree in Social Work, her goal is to work with area families to help them escape poverty, and to be an inspiration to her children and grandchild. She isn’t just working for our community, she is working with. And her passion for it radiates from her daily choices, words and actions.

In addition, the Director of Empowerment Services, now works to develop programs which teach computer skills, and resume building. She also networks with local agencies to help current clients find employment, and has set up a system where she can track clients as they enter the employment arena so that she may continue to help them increase their job skills.

Recently the Center launched a new program called Attire 4 Hire. This program is a direct result of a need voiced by our clients for proper clothing for job interviews and new employment. The Franciscan Center, through the help of client volunteers and local students, has renovated a space at the Center, and now has a boutique with donated ‘recycled’ suits and business wear, which is enabling our clients to look for employment on the same level as persons not living in poverty; all the while increasing self-awareness and personal dignity.  This is just one example of the many growths the Center has experienced, directly due to client involvement. The partnerships that have been created through this outreach program work to strengthen both the Center, the programs we offer, and Baltimore as a whole. Genesis Jobs, Suited to Succeed, Baltimore Fashion Alliance, The Mayor’s Office of Employment Development (MOED), all working together to promote job growth in our city.

In addition to our board members, and paid staff, the Center’s volunteer base is also made up of many current and former clients. Without which many programs would not be possible. For example  John, a formerly homeless man, and recovering addict, has been instrumental in helping the Center open its doors on Fridays, by volunteering his time and working as a leader for other volunteers, thus enabling us to offer a warm, safe environment, and a meal five days a week, instead of four.  John recently shared with another volunteer that the Center is the one place where he is trusted to make decisions about the task at hand, and his opinions respected. When other volunteers fail to show up, John is there.

Another way the Franciscan Center has been able to increase community development and promote effective, sustainable families is through a partnership with The MOED. The Franciscan Center currently has three staff members that work through a job placement program, and this partnership.  This program enables individuals to grow their current skill set, and learn new skills through on the job training. These staff members are of the low-income to very low-income status and their income is paid through the Mayor’s Office; thus allowing the Center to offer job training, increasing our capacity and reach within our programs, work to strengthen the lives of both the clients working here, and those utilizing our services, all while not adding the cost of employment to the Center.

Words have power. Such a small preposition, and look at its effect on the city of Baltimore, and the lives of the thousands of people we work with every year!

What word can you change to make your environment more inclusive, collaborative, and sustainable?